The OSIRIS-REx mission is set to deliver samples taken from asteroid Bennu. The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, NASA's first spacecraft to return samples from asteroids, fired its engines for 30 seconds on Sept. 21 in order to adjust its trajectory as it headed back to Earth.
The Hayabusa2 mission returned to Earth in December 2020 a capsule with approximately five grams of payload taken from the surface of asteroid Ryugu. The samples of the asteroid revealed fascinating details about Ryugu. But the alien samples also offered many new clues about our solar system and life on Earth. Now, NASA’s very own sample return mission is on track to do the same thing. The OSIRIS-REx mission is set to deliver samples taken from asteroid Bennu. The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, NASA’s first spacecraft to return samples from asteroids, fired its engines for 30 seconds on Sept. 21 in order to adjust its trajectory as it headed back to Earth. After a seven-year mission, the vehicle can deliver a sample of the asteroid Bennu to Earth on Sept. 24, 2023, completing its mission on schedule.
In order for NASA’s OSIRIS-REx sample return capsule to reach Earth’s atmosphere at a specific speed and direction, it must approach Earth at a precise speed and direction. The delivery isn’t a simple parcel drop on Earth’s doorstep. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center’s OSIRIS-REx deputy project manager Mike Moreau said that if the capsule is angled too high, it will skip off the atmosphere. Earth’s atmosphere will burn it up if angled too low.
The trajectory of OSIRIS-REx will gradually be adjusted over the next year to make sure the spacecraft reaches Earth at a safe distance, according to Daniel Wibben, KinetX Inc.’s trajectory-and-maneuver lead. It is important that we cross Earth’s orbit at the same time as the Earth is at that location.” Wibben works closely with the Lockheed Martin team that flies the spacecraft in Littleton, Colorado. This was the first time OSIRIS-REx’s trajectory had been changed since it left Bennu on May 10, 2021. As a result of this course adjustment, OSIRIS-REx would pass Earth at a distance of approximately 1,367 miles (2,200 kilometers).
Starting in July 2023, OSIRIS-REx will be maneuvered even closer, to 155 miles (250 kilometers) above the surface. This will allow it to release its sample capsule via parachute for a precise landing at the Great Salt Lake Desert’s Utah Test and Training Range. Researchers could learn more about the ancestor building blocks of life by studying Bennu samples in the lab. It is noteworthy to say that Asteroids are like time capsules, preserving the earliest history of our solar system. Just under a year away from the sample’s arrival, the mission team is already preparing. At the Utah range, NASA collaborates with the Army and Air Force to practice the retrieval and transport of space capsules.
Delivery of samples
Also, an entirely new lab was built at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston to store the samples. Dedicated gloveboxes, tools, and storage containers are being designed by engineering and curation experts to preserve the sample. Scientists around the world will receive sample portions from Johnson. Also, OSIRIS-REx will store and preserve a significant portion of what it returns for future generations to study. Some Apollo Moon samples, which were returned decades ago, are only now being examined with technology not available at the time they were returned. NASA launched OSIRIS-REx on Sept. 8, 2016. After arriving at Bennu in December 2018, the spacecraft surveyed the asteroid for nearly two years. The spacecraft collected an asteroid sample on Oct. 20, 2020, and stored it in its sample return capsule.
As soon as OSIRIS-REx returns this sample to Earth, it will continue its mission to asteroid Apophis under the name “OSIRIS-APEX.” It is estimated that asteroid 99942 Apophis measures approximately 1,100 feet (340 meters) in diameter. Interestingly, Apophis was initially identified in 2004 as one of the most dangerous asteroids. In recent years, however, astronomers have tracked Apophis and are better able to determine its orbit. In March 2021, astronomers used radar observations and orbit analysis to determine that the asteroid poses no threat to our planet in the next hundred years.